Article read time: 11 minutes
How many times have you stopped and assessed things? When I say stop, I mean really stop. Perhaps for as long as a week, and no, not on a holiday, just randomly? Society has been programmed to work hard, all the time. The amount of work that goes into what we want to achieve is ultimately what is slowing us down and producing adequate results.
This is what I feel is wrong with the industry right now. We’re in a hurry to make sure a 100% of all our contacts are happy and we’re producing above and beyond what we originally offered for no real reason.
Recently, I began to speak with my father about the importance of assessing your life and your workloads. In the resilience space particularly, we’re running around like headless chickens trying to build a new Business Continuity Plan (BCP) each week to a new client. Those of us still growing our client base, we’re spending less time having conversations with the right people and more time giving extra to our current clients (which isn’t bringing in much buck to bank). Over the last year, I’ve become obsessed with streamlining my life, ridding the irrelevant junk, and becoming effective and efficient at what I do. There are only a few people I could list who have also done this, but I want you to become part of this small club.
Below are my four steps on how you can begin this too.
Reassess and rid
Please note: An adaptation of this exercise was originally presented by Tim Ferriss from his book The Four-hour Work Week.
Step one to streamlining your life is to determine whether what you’re currently doing is adding any value to you personally, your business, and your clients. Unfortunately, many professionals are stubborn in their ways and most of us have unintentionally trained our minds to disagree with our hearts. If there is a task you know deep down inside is irrelevant, your mind can over power you to complete it at all costs.
My advice; get others involved.
Obtain some sort of whiteboard, large paper or projector and have no fewer than three of your colleagues sit with you. Allow at least two hours for this session. “Two hours!? I don’t have time for two hours of heart to heart!” Thanks, you’ve already proven my point.
Everyone needs to write down their tasks. All of them. Hand them to the meeting facilitator (you cannot be the facilitator). This person writes them all on the board in a random order. Only you know which ones are yours.
One by one, the room discusses each task and comes to a collective agreement on the importance of it and whether it’s necessary to be done. Again, no one knows which belongs to who. The facilitator either crosses out the ones that have been voted not worthy, or, writes them underneath a line that represents our next step if they are worthy.
Step two, the facilitator now addresses the room and informs you of the following scenario:
You have worked twenty years straight to grow your client base and business but have fallen ill. The doctor recommends that you now work only 15 hours per week or you are at serious risk of heart failure and death. (Yes, we’re going extreme here).
*Note: I have seen this exercise not hit a chord with very senior executives as they simply don’t take their health seriously. So, exchange theirs for someone they love and that they now need to look after that person.
With the remaining tasks, you repeat step one’s process.
The importance here is to recognise the credibility of every task vs your life, your health and your purpose. Is it really worth it?
Step three becomes even slightly more extreme. Despite cutting to fifteen hours a week, your health is still deteriorating. Your doctor has a very serious conversation and recommends only five hours per week to check on overall operations and nothing more. You are not allowed to leave the house or attend meetings.
Now however, instead of cutting the tasks, the exercise covers the options of automation, elimination, and outsourcing. The definition of these may be:
- Automation: turning an out of office on to explain you cannot currently check emails, please contact our receptionist or PA on [number], or in any urgent cases, you can attempt to call me on [number]. If you cover your own social media for example, you may start scheduling posts over the next two months one evening.
- Elimination: will your company, clients, or anyone else die if you eliminate? Is it really that important? What’s the worst that could possibly happen?
- Outsourcing: (See below) Can you delegate these tasks to juniors looking for experience or to Virtual Assistants?
Go through the current list and put a “A”, “E” or “O” next to each task.
By doing this simple task in a group where no one is aware of other tasks, you can get other people’s opinions on the legitimacy of the task in hand. You of course can do this alone, but be as ruthless as you can with yourself, or have a spouse look over it with you, someone who has no idea the technical details of said tasks but can identify its worthlessness.
Step four is to make this all happen. Record the remaining tasks and get to work immediately – straight after the meeting! If you hold it to next week, you’ll never do it. Yes, you will have some tasks left over, but I assure you not as many as when you started.
Outsourcing your junk
We’re all carrying rubbish with us. When we work in large organisations and we’re seen as key decision makers especially, we’re asked many irrelevant questions (usually via email) that you know they could have just answered themselves. “Boss, is it OK if I turn this colour from blue to red? They’re looking to change up the coffee too, are you OK with that?” Workers seldom pick up the courage to knock on their bosses office door, but will happily send a lengthy email instead.
Outsourcing is essentially what’s making Asia wealthier now. Not wealthier on the scale we recognise, but it’s a noticeable change in the economics of these countries thanks to their passion to learning and educate themselves. I outsource nearly 80% of my life now, and for good reason. The people I work with and provide work for, are more readily available and efficient than any person I have ever worked with, and that’s saying a lot.
And yes, I’ve had many conversations about the moral nature of it. “You’re sending work someone would charge double for in western countries to get it cheaper aren’t you!?”. You’re damn right I am, but the conversion for them, the careers they now have and the amount of opportunity they now have has tripled from fifteen years ago, all because I trust them with my work. Of course, I want them to be wealthier, happier, and live as we do, but I’m not intelligent enough or skilled enough to find ways to make that happen. For now, I provide revenue and work for my incredible Indian VA’s over in Bangladesh.
Why you should outsource:
If you don’t want them to manage your social security number and credit cards, then don’t send them that. But if you want them to write gloriously good proposals and branded presentations for you to simply fill in the gaps, then you need to be considering this option.
Outsourcing does two major things for me: 1) It allows me to concentrate on the more important things, the growth of my visions 2) it gives me my most important value back, my time.
I never outsource tasks that are client facing and I’m an extremely good manager to the situation. I’ve used this opportunity to benefit everyone and I plan out far in advance how I want the relationship to work.
How to find a VA:
Google it. Most are found in Asia, and they’re certainly the cheapest. Your communication skills and management of tasks must be on the CEO level, and before you go racing ahead saying you’re sorted there, consider the money you’re going to invest in this first. There is a language barrier, but it's professional.
My first VA is from Canada, she now works with us on a semi-full-time basis (“semi” being I tell her to work her own hours). She was a college student who was more switched on than most senior managers I’ve worked with.
Trial them first. Brickwork, who I currently work with and probably will do until the end, gave me a trial period to assess their worth. No contracts, no strings. Get them on basic tasks and prepare to find time you never knew you had while receiving work you never thought possible within twenty-four hours.
What should I outsource? The stuff you hate doing. It’s really that simple! If you don’t enjoy something, it will affect the rest of your day. Using the above list of tasks, think about what could be done better by someone else (especially if they’re being paid). What’s been on your task list the longest and you’ve still not done? What task is quite important but would require you time to learn? What tasks, if ridden, would allow you to have at least three days empty? What would you do with three-days if someone offered that right now?
Nearly 75% of major US businesses grossing $5+million in revenue outsource their day-to-day tasks. They too have realized the level of work that comes with being successful.
Health & well-being
My father just got into meditation. Like his trial as a vegan, this has surprised me. Not because of the assumptions that come with this hippy-type hobby, but because I really thought he’d always just put his head down and aim to get his work done first before considering why he was getting stressed.
The same man also completes Iron-man triathlons and all sorts of adventure races while running the country operations for his employer. We’re both extreme when it comes to taking on new adventures, but the extreme lengths of health and well-being has never been questioned. If meditating is going to present a positive persona to new clients, then why would you not do it?
Freeing up time to allow your body to adjust back to its natural state is crucial for your mind to be effective. If your body is not alert, neither will your mind be. When living in Wellington, New Zealand (the Government town of NZ), I saw many hugely overweight, greasy and grey government officials who looked unwell. How could their minds truly be alert in that state while running a country?
To this day, there are few business people who could keep up with my father and me. On a professional level, the majority likely trump us, but we’re earning what we want and doing what we love only because we’ve mirrored the business intelligence we have to the passion to lift and run stupid distances.
“But I have no time to work out!” Did you know, it only takes three weeks to see a physical difference in your appearance when you exercise? Less than a month! Fifteen minutes a day produces the same amount of Endorphins & Oxycontin release as sex does, and I bet most of you find time for that…right? By getting rid of tasks, you can replace it with what’s right.
A few months back, I took a senior resilience manager for an expert level hike. He literally nearly died on a cliff edge that took us an hour to climb. Once up, he said to me, “you know Ollie, that’s the first hour in about twelve months I’ve not thought about work!” It took a near death experience to take his mind off work. We worked hard on getting him out to that trek and his mindset has been reset ever since.
I recommend following The Body Coach. I’ve met Joe Wicks a few times in passing as he lived in the same city as me. An incredibly fit guy, annoyingly handsome and funny, and runs the worlds largest growing health and fitness business. His whole motto is that not only can you cook incredibly healthy foods within fifteen minutes, you can have intense workouts (at home) in the same time. Truly confirming that half and hour is all you need!
Effective and efficient: ignoring the obvious
All businesses need to be innovative and effective in what they do. Their work must be efficient for the clients and the projects that are sold, but we never mirror this to our own work methods.
I now decline almost all meeting requests and instead allow my team and even clients to address what they’re so desperate to talk to me about there and then. If I too believe it’s worth talking about, I rid the title “meeting” and replace it with an address to a bar or café where while walking there, we talk about everything other than work. I allow fifteen minutes of talking about work and then bring it back to personal things.
Meetings are rarely effective, and they’re certainly not efficient. Consider a daily or weekly scrum if you’re so concerned about what’s happening around you and with your team. When people request meetings with me, no matter what level of seniority, I assume they’re trying to micro manage me – which is my most hated technique of collaboration. If you believe you’re being effective or efficient by having meetings, then I challenge you to assess both revenue and project timelines that are a direct result of these meetings? Prove me wrong.
Ways to get out of meetings or “catch ups” are easier than you think. When you can’t avoid them, I recommend a small white-lie that sounds something like this:
Sorry John, I know we have a call scheduled in now, but something has just come up. One of our largest clients needs a proposal done by Friday. Look, can you just give me a quick overview now of your thoughts and then email me a bullet point summary after? I promise I’ll reply by next Tuesday.
When your phone rings, ignore who is calling and remind yourself one thing: the phone is there for your convenience, not theirs. You don’t always have to answer. Set up a voicemail that redirects them to email your PA or receptionist first, then if needed, you. Alternatively, if someone is emailing you or aiming to set up a meeting, call them then and there - if they're at their desks, they're likely able to take a phone call, there is no need to arrange a time.
Being effective means being efficient.
When you rid the junk out of your life, you can be effective as an individual. By removing clutter and irrelevant junk that is fogging up your work, you can focus on the important issues and become much more effective in them.
The Scandinavian techniques:
In many Scandinavian countries, the average work day is 9 AM to 3 PM. Six hours straight of deep-work that has produced some of the leading tech companies and innovations of our time (as well as the happiest nations on earth). When you give yourself eight hours, you will find ways to fill it. Alternatively, you’ll become distracted and take hours to get back into the rhythm of the important tasks.
Employee and contracted to eight hours? Talk to your boss about the Scandinavians and present her or him with some credible research on the effectiveness of these hours. But don’t stop there; offer your boss the opportunity to prove yourself. Work four weeks at these hours and present this person your results and effectiveness. If it falls short, then you’ve both learnt something! Chances are, you’ll streamline your work and get stuff done.
I work three solid days a week around five to six hours starting at five AM. I allow my remaining two days to innovate and create beautiful campaigns after I’ve beasted my body in the gym.
The five AM start.
Between the hours of 5 AM and 9 AM, your emails are quiet. At least the quietest they’ll be for the remaining nine hours. Your phone is likely the same. In fact, social media has barely woken up at this time.
If you’re keeping to your six hours, or heck, even do eight; you’ll still be done by midday. Could you imagine walking outside, to the gym, for a bike ride, to be with the kids at midday knowing you’ve already done a full day’s work, and an extremely effective one at that!?
Next week, challenge yourself. The night before, set up the coffee station, breakfast, and a space to work at home or in the office. Set your alarm for 5 AM and get up. Get up at all costs (leave your alarm at the other side of the room to avoid the snooze button).
The first two days will be a little tough, but your mind is most alert in the AM. Record and examine the results.
People who tell me they’re busy only remind me of sheep rigorously trying to stuff as much grass down their mouths before sundown. You’re not busy, you’re just ineffective at running the life you want. I hate that word, and I hate it even more when people feel the need to tell me it. We’re all “busy” aren’t we? Get busy living or get busy dying. I disagree with that statement, it should have been get happy living or get busy dying.
When people ask me how busy I am right now, I say not at all. I am however certainly not bored!
When you get on top of your life and rid the junk, your clients will notice a positive change, so will your colleagues, friends, family, and bank account. And if nothing else, your dog will be a super-happy-good-boy to get an extra walk each week, and that’s got to count for something, right?